17 Reviews liked by petapd

the ground truth
there's a tension in game critique between analyzing a game's mechanics in the abstract and incorporating the historical context it exists in. good critique often starts with the former and bleeds into the latter, viewing the raw systems at play using the critic's preconceptions of "good" game design as the ground truth before moving into the wider context of the genre it resides in and the state of the industry. some lean fully into the former and some the latter. however, these two are inherently intertwined; the critic's previous engagement with the wider context taints their preconceptions, and it's impossible to extract any axioms from the ground truth that haven't been tainted in the same way. given that critique is an art and not a science, we can accept this as inevitable and move on. after all, the variety of people's individual preconceptions produces discourse in both its beautiful and toxic forms. if we seek to share critique and provoke the thoughts of others, then having a unique ground truth is meaningful.
this is not favorable to resident evil 4, unfortunately. around its neck is another resident evil 4 which so greatly shaped the medium as to create its own overwhelming ground truth without any path to overturn it. this applies to all remakes of course, but this new resident evil 4 simply begs these comparisons out of the gate. how can I potentially rip the abstract mechanics out of this game and view them without bias when the original product is so closely grafted to its back?
I delved into the simplicity of the original resident evil 4's combat in my previous review of that game. its stagger system and context-sensitive melee options form a crowd-control methodology that remains one of the most memorable aspects of the game to this day. that its remake utterly repudiates these mechanics is shocking at first glance. the context-sensitive melee input's timing is tighter, its area of effect is smaller, and its invincibility frames fail to protect leon quite as effectively as in the original. the inconsistent stagger further complicates this, as I'll get into the next section. these elements of the crowd-control loop structured all combat encounters from the original, and without it the game teeters dangerously close to becoming just another modern zombie game. this was my original impression in that opening village fight, which took me nearly 45 minutes of attempts on hardcore. why did the precision and definitive outcomes get thrown to the wayside in favor of this squishy mess of slow response time, inaccurate aiming, and erratic enemy behavior?
what I had to do as I continued was reframe the ground truth. the original resident evil 4 boils everything down to the above loop in a way that linearizes it. it certainly presents options for the player, but the vast majority of ganados and cultists should be dispatched through this herd->stagger->melee approach. in that way, the game offers complete control over your surroundings virtually all the time. the remake rejects this in favor of widening the option pool, creating further checks and balances on each tool, and fermenting a greater sense of uncertainty and chaos. it captures the experience of being overwhelmed, drowning in a sea of transformed villagers while running low on resources and health. changing the original's combat loop was necessary to conjure these situations.
probably most of you reading the above are going to recoil at that... but stay tuned, I'm setting this up as the ground truth, but I'm going to tear it apart later as well. however, it's necessary to give the game the benefit of the doubt this way in order to observe what it does right as well as understand where it falls short on its own terms.
determinism vs stochasticity
the stagger system in re4r builds something much knottier than its predecessor through a conflux of multiple factors seasoned with a bit of RNG. in other words: it's inconsistent. I doubt we'll ever have a clear idea of how it works until it gets reverse engineered some time from now. in any case, it's a far cry from the deterministic staggers of the original, which could be consistently induced from a headshot or other weak point.
we can view determinism and stochasticity (or randomness) as a continuum for mechanics and games as a whole to fall within, where the former is a pure puzzle and the latter is gambling. let's say that the original falls closer towards the deterministic end while the remake is closer to the stochastic end; of course, each game has elements of both, such as the semi-random enemy AI and plagas spawns in the original and the parry mechanics in the remake. in many action contexts, it makes more sense for move outcomes to be deterministic. we need consistency in order to observe patterns and form strategies with a guarantee of efficacy. if I were playing a game such as souls or monhun and had attacks with heavy commitments fail or produce confusing effects, any outcome that I find myself in could potentially be unavoidable at no fault of my own, and if all my escape options also have heavy commitments or long startups, I may have set myself up for failure through random chance.
however, both versions of re4 are shooters, and by their nature most actions are near instantaneous; point the gun and shoot. if an enemy lasts a bullet or two longer before teeing up a melee attack, the reaction needed to fire off another round to get them into that state is much more negligible. abstractly, this kind of uncertainty actually can create interesting types of decision-making and intentionality for the player. attacks with uncertain outcomes can be planned in such a way that option selects occur, where each potential outcome results in a situation that the player can also take advantage of provided they can react appropriately. it also facilitates quick decision-making with gun selection. if not inducing stagger with the handgun could potentially result in damage, the shotgun may be a better tool; weighing these options becomes more challenging when there is a need to factor in percentage chances of success, especially in the way this interacts with limited quantities of ammo. the new reticle mechanic drawn from the previous two remakes also influences player choices in how it forces the player to remain still in order to let the reticle close and cause more damage/stagger. these all coalesce into a toolkit that creates ambiguity for the player on what options may be best at any given point, often leaving the player to act on instinct in a frenzy and then live with the outcome.
furthermore, re4r extends its knife mechanics in order to create a secondary set of tools for the player to grapple with the uncertainty of gun actions. the knife primarily provides a near-universal option for dispelling enemy attacks when used to parry, which comes at the cost of both knife durability and a small player stagger (though a perfect parry effectively nullifies this). it also can be used to push enemies off when they do a forward grab, backstab enemies, instantly kill some spawning plagas, and fight directly to induce stagger in combination with your other tools. this creates two primary spheres of play: the uncertain long-distance area where the player is more-or-less safe but lacks definite control over their actions, and the short-distance area where the player can definitively control the parries and other close-range actions but is in direct danger from every enemy in the game. compared to the original re4, where running into the fray was encouraged thanks to the high safety of melee actions, the remake creates ambiguity in the choice of range for the player. kiting is an option but the ammo use is inefficient, while parries can highly useful but drain durability and potentially set the player up for damage if they miss a perfect parry while another enemy approaches. both of these areas of ambiguity - for options specifically in the long-range as well switching between long-range and short-range - help instill a sense of claustrophobia as enemies swarm leon.
this interpretation isn't without its flaws. the primary issue is that the parry actually drains very little durability compared to some of the other actions (assuming that you aren't using it against certain instakill attacks, which often destroy an entire knife), and as it works on all but a small subset of enemy attacks (such as the hammer or the scythe), it centralizes the other mechanics around itself. perfect parries guarantee a stagger for melee and thus become more appealing than the other options to the point of occasionally just letting enemies approach to get a parry off rather than even considering long-range actions. there are elements that still counterbalance this such as the inability to block attacks from behind (sometimes?) and the uncertainty involved in parrying attacks such as plagas tendrils, but some of this abstract ambiguity becomes lost given the obvious superiority of this mechanic in many instances.
the modern zombie game
last year I reviewed the last of us, a game that in retrospect seems to be one of the many midway points between the original re4 and this remake. in my critique I discuss how the game primarily morphs between three styles of action: cover, stealth, and horde. re4r does add in light stealth elements (specifically in the village chapter), but the most obvious point of comparison between these two are the horde sections.
in that tlou review, I singled out the hotel basement as the best horde section in the game thanks to its non-prescriptive level design and the flexibility of the room layouts. at its best, tlou captured the scramble of running past zombies and efficiently dealing with groups; at its worst, horde encounters would devolve into endlessly running into circles, swapping your various indistinguishable guns around to deal with limited ammo. many months out from my playthrough, several of these fights have congealed together in my brain, with the game's more fleshed-out cover/stealth hybrid sections dominating the majority of my memories. although it had the potential to excel in terms of horde combat, it falls rather slight in execution.
re4r seizes upon this without all of the drawbacks of tlou's lackluster gunplay and overall horde encounter design. in particular, the ammo economy feels skewed away from the original's bountiful reserves to something more akin to tlou. while handgun ammo drops regularly even without the attache case that boosts it, the handgun is the most uncertain of all the weapons, making ammo for your more consistent powerhouses like the shotgun and rifle all the more precious. the new gunpowder system that gives the player the ability to craft ammo at their leisure undermines this somewhat, but the difference between the 20-40 shotgun shells one is likely to hold in the original game to the 5-15 that's more common here makes any shells expended on gunning down basic mooks even more consequential.
more importantly, re4r builds interesting encounters using staggered enemy types, much like the tlou hotel basement encounter does with its bloater and various infected. the most notable instance of this for me during this playthrough was the twin garrador fight, which has been expanded with many more ganados than in the original. the absence of the famous cage fight is disappointing, but the added wrinkles to this garrador fight make up for it, especially in the way that parrying within earshot of a garrador will cause them to charge. throughout this fight the constant influx of enemies forces you to keep moving and stay on the lookout for ways you can chip away at the garradors and silently kill the adds, with tricking the garradors into slicing down reams of enemies being the most satisfying solution for culling the herd. the chainsaw sisters fight also achieves this in an even bigger environment, where you're chased along wooden scaffolding by enemies in growing numbers as you trap your pursuers with lit lanterns from above. both of these fights are great examples of moments where the original game is legitimately expanded through infusing already excellent fights with more complex spaces and enemies pouring in from all sides. by giving the genius sections from the original the flair of modern, more dense zombie games, the designers here effectively breathed new life into these scenarios.
wide breadth and shallow length
something I neglected to mention in the prior section on stochasticity was the laser sight, which seems to maximize stagger on every shot and improve accuracy. if you do want to play more like the original and its stagger-focused crowd control, the laser sight will let you do that from early on in the game. conversely if you'd rather incorporate some stealth, many of the areas have interconnected pathways and ways to sneak up on enemies with the backstab takedown. the bolt thrower now appears much earlier than before with the mines relegated to an additional ammo type, allowing players more interested in creating traps to focus on that weapon. while many of these choices existed in the original, the wealth of gameplay styles has been expanded here, from differentiating and balancing the handguns even further to adding an assault rifle.
in a way, this variety dovetails nicely with the previously mentioned de-emphasis of the stagger and contextual melee in the way that players can choose what aspects of their kit to invest in over the course of the game. this pairs especially well with the overhauled treasure system, which gives the player more strategic methods by which to maximize their earnings via the new multipliers for color combinations with inlaid gems. in theory this is exactly what I had established the intent for the game as earlier: to delinearize combat and make the optimal choices more ambiguous.
however, I have largely ignored the specifics of the encounter design outside of the previously mentioned twin garrador and chainsaw fights. these areas are excellent to be sure, as are others such as the opening village and the catwalks over the precipice after meeting the merchant, but much of the rest of the game becomes less interesting than its predecessor by way of more tempered enemy layouts (or in the words of my previous review, less of a frenzy). compared to the literal hordes of the original, the remake ends up following a more modern pattern of obstacle escalation when constructing its fights. look at the wrecking ball fight and its strict phases that pace out the most dangerous enemies and end with a round of the bug plagas. an even more egregious example is the water room, the first half of which has been thinned and spread out across an upstairs and a downstairs section. by reducing the flow of enemies in these areas, the chaos the game fosters through its mechanics becomes less apparent through the rigidity of the scenario pacing.
the variety in playstyles intersects with this, specifically in how many enemies are often on-screen at once. with smaller groups, the anxiety of constantly juggling foes from many sides melts away, and one can autopilot with whatever strategy they've invested in. this particularly becomes noticable by the island chapter, where encounters in general tend towards mere handfuls of enemies in-between a few bigger areas such as the AA turret or the wrecking ball. after learning the game on its own merits for the first half, I found myself trending towards simply recreating the original game here, with a fully leveled-up silver ghost and its laser sight becoming a stagger machine and melees/parries dominating much of my approach. in the larger encounters this fell apart, with a greater need to scramble and switch between weapons, but the predominance of smaller encounters pushed me towards just playing a clumsier version of the original.
in its own way, what I previously referred to as "linearized" combat in the original really forms the "arcade-like" nature that many have come to love about it. the frenzy of the original and its anti-obstacle escalation doctrine created an incredible spread of scenarios to apply these mechanics to. the original re4 is about observing radically different ideas and designs for encounters and framing them in such a way that you can pull off that herd->stagger->melee loop, just as tetris is a game of turning different stack shapes and tetramino sequences into line clears, or qix is about navigating around the titular entity to find areas to slice away. the small pool of mechanics get stretched in such a way that they never feel rote. meanwhile, the remake takes its wider breadth of options and sacrifices the depth across the length of its campaign, creating more homogenous scenarios overall. there are throwaway rooms in the original that feel more dynamic than major setpieces of the remake, and by the second half I can say it approaches mediocrity. slam-dunks like the double turret section end up feeling like they've run out of ideas. if there's any justification of the original ground truth, where re4r fails while the original succeeds, it's here.
the review
that's a relatively abstract view of the game as a whole though, and obviously I have a lot more thoughts on it from front to back. so let me fire off some random other thoughts that didn't quite fit into my higher-level critique.
bosses overall probably have an equal hit rate to the original. mendez is a good example that I thought improved thanks to a little more structure between the two phases and some extra room; I was never really into meat-and-potatoes bosses like many found in the original. gigante somehow gets worse thanks to exaggerated hitboxes and a jittering, small plagas. the double gigante fight is the opposite, being basically just scripted (throw a flashbang, drop the unarmored one in, wait for luis to come back with the dynamite, blow it up, drop the other one in). krauser is some trial-and-error bullshit and then just a parry fest. salazar stresses leon's clunky movement and the need for camera control far too much... saddler is actually pretty good! the adds in that one give it a nice bit of flavor.
the whole of chapter 11 is just bleh. double gigante, the shockingly boring minecart section, and the one-at-a-time bugs, all of which feel rather slight compared to their original incarnations. and ending with that new krauser fight... this is where I stopped feeling as hype on the game.
side quests are there but thankfully skippable. I didn't really trade for much from the shop since I stuck with silver ghost and ignored all the extra stocks and shit, so I didn't feel the need to touch them much once you hit the castle. backtracking for some of these things is most doable in the village and then feels tacked on later down the line.
the regenerators were never my favorite part of the original, but the way they act here is just ruined by the parry. my roommate had her hands over her eyes the whole time they were chasing me until the fifth time I parried them, and then even she realized that they didn't really pose a threat. the electricity puzzles they plopped in here are obnoxious and tedious; I solved every one just by a simple brute force method. the wrench was cute though, that'll stay burned into my brain even when some of the rest of this game fades away.
I'm fine with slow leon but oh my god some of the aspects of this control scheme are dire. quick turn was butchered not only by being incredibly inconsistent but also by giving three bizarre options for it: back and run (which causes accidental backwards runs), back and crouch (which is basically a death sentence if you end up crouching in place), and back and the left stick button (the fuck were they thinking?). just let me put it on cross... also it seems like I wasn't able to crouch in the middle of a run? confusing oversight. combined with frequent flubbed ground stabs and the weird valid angles for parries... just rough all around.
can't believe how many evade QTEs they stuck in here after it seemed like they were going to excise them overall. why would you cut the salazar statue chase (the fire breathing is cool though) in favor of giving random-ass scythe enemies an unparryable attack with a QTE evade? and the bosses are still so reliant on it... at the same time I get the reluctance to add a dodge roll to this. a general dodge would've required a complete design overhaul, and it's sort of overkill with the ability to strafe, but the overreliance on them especially when it comes to boss battles feels like a major case where a reimagining would have been greatly appreciated.

You're trying too hard, bro! More or less, the main reason as to why I'm generally disinterested in modern horror games, which tend to serve as vehicles for cryptic lore dumps for YouTube analysts to pore over rather than fright-enhanced decision making. I don't want mindfuckery, I want regular fuckery, something that I was hopeful would be present in this kind of return to form. This game was sold to me as the best of Resident Evil meets the best of Silent Hill, but, in reality, it's the worst of both: Resident Evil's cramped item management without any of the brilliant circular level design that makes Spencer Mansion thrilling to route through even after dozens of playthroughs, and Silent Hill's scary-because-it's-scary imagery without any of the dread that defines each and every one of Harry Mason's fog-enveloped footsteps. Instead, we've got jumpcuts to character closeups and spooky stanzas of poetry, pulsating masses of flesh on the ground, and handwritten notes conveniently censored at the most ominous places- surface-level stuff that makes horror games effective for people who don't understand what makes horror games effective. I'm not engaged enough to decipher your jumbled-up story, I'm not interested in your generic sci-fi setting, and I'm not even scared! But, maybe if I actually felt like the character I was playing as, I would be! Fast movement speed and wide hallways make enemies pitifully easy to juke, and thus not at all intimidating. Exploration isn't exciting or intriguing because of how straightforward it is on a grand scale. Plentiful items and infinite saves mean there's not any pressure on you even if you do wind up making a mistake somehow. I initially chalked this all up to misguided attempts at balance, but they get harder and harder to defend once you realize that all you're really doing is (often literally) opening up a locked door just to find a key for another locked door somewhere else on the map, which makes the experience feel more like a parody of classic survival horror games rather than an earnest attempt at recapturing the magic. I hardly took out any enemies, I didn't burn a single body, and, on several occasions, I killed myself on purpose because doing that was quicker than having to run back to the save room to retrieve the specific contextual item I needed, which is about as damning as you can get for this kind of game. The only strategy to pick up on is keeping nothing at all on your person in between storage box visits so that you can handle when the game inevitably dumps five key items on you in successive rooms. Mikami's rolling in his grave!
The lone bright spots are the traditional puzzles, which, although are few and far between, frequently nail the physical satisfaction of fiddling around with a piece of old, analog equipment that you're half familiar with and half in the dark on. If this game had understood its strengths better, it would've been a fully-fledged point-and-click or even a Myst-style free-roaming puzzler. The actual survivor horror feels tacked on, as though it's obligated to be this kind of game because it's attempting to tell a story in the same emotional vein as the Silent Hill series and the player needs to have something to do before being shown the next deep, thought-provoking cutscene. I can't even say that it understands the classics from a visual standpoint, forgoing the fixed-camera perspective that gives each of Resident Evil's individual rooms a distinct cinematographic personality and instead opting for a generic top-down approach that makes every location feel the same. Though, that's not to say the art direction itself is bad. In fact, it's phenomenal, and easily the standout of the game's features, but it doesn't make up for how bland everything else is. At some point, this one demoted itself in my eyes from 'mostly boring but worth playing just for the aesthetic' to 'downright painful.' Maybe it was after the game pretentiously transitioned into a first-person walking simulator one too many times. Or, more likely, it was when some of the small details- red-light save screens, items conveniently located right on top of their respective instruction manuals, and even the sound effect of equipping your pistol- started feeling less like homages and more like creative crutches, indicators of an entirely rudderless experience. I really feel terrible for ragging on something that's evidently a passion project and extremely competent from a technical standpoint, and I sincerely hope the devs keep at it. But, man. I wish I got anything at all out of this. The one game I've played that's managed get this done, I mean, spiritually succeeding an era/genre rather than a specific series by remixing several blatant inspirations so proficiently that it ends up feeling like something entirely new, is still Shovel Knight, but I'm not sure the world's ready for that conversation quite yet...

Deus Ex: Invisible War somehow isn't the biggest stinker in Harvey Smith's directing career anymore

I feel like I'm in crazy town when I see reviewers I'd normally agree with exude that they were massively disappointed by TEW1 but were pleasantly surprised with its sequel. As a fan of Sebastian Castellanos'(I'll never get over how rad that name is) first outing into the world of action horror I couldn't help but walk away from TEW2 feeling like I wasn't the target audience. While TEW2 brings back a number of elements from the first game, it also tries to distance itself from it. The story is barely related, the structure wildly different, and some of the original's biggest strengths have been left behind. I still mostly enjoyed my time with TEW2(enough to nab all the trophies on PS4) but was letdown by how conventional and safe a lot of it was. It's as if all the bite of the original game was removed and replaced with all the mechanics you'd expect from a modern, generic AAA game.
The first issue I have is the removal of the original's match mechanic. In TEW1 you could drop a match(a consumable resource) onto enemies/specific hazards and briefly light them on fire. This could be used to burn surrounding monsters if timed just right. It was a mechanic that admittedly wasn't conveyed terribly well to the player(a pretty frequent issue with the original) but was a fantastic risk/reward system. You had to kite enemies over to you and be ready to drop your match right as they got in your face. The reward was instant death against most foes. Not only was this feature removed in TEW2, but it was replaced with nothing. There was no reason to get rid of one of the first game's most unique and engaging mechanics unless the developers were afraid matches were too big-brained for the audience they were shooting for. Maybe they were right, but their absence makes for worse combat since you're rarely encouraged to make as many risky plays in TEW2. In general, there's less one-hit-kills, less surprises, and no traps, which were a staple of the first game. Both you and the enemies could set your own traps to lure each other into but this was another element missing in TEW2. I get the impression the developers at Tango saw how frustrated some players got with the original game and instead of deciding to better introduce and teach these mechanics, Tango decided to simply drop them. I guess it worked; critics I normally agree with didn't seem to mind their absence. Nevertheless, the absence of these core mechanics means TEW2's gameplay loses a lot of the original's identity.
Another trait of TEW1 was its linear structure. You'd go level-by-level and you're never given too much to explore. A lot of set pieces and special fights railroad you forward but you were still given some downtime on occasion thanks to mirrors that teleported you to an(mostly) abandoned hospital where you could upgrade your weapons and skills. The TEW2 has its share of linear sections but a lot of the game takes place in two open sandboxes of sorts. You're given optional things to find and quests to do. Some of the exploration in these larger, less contained areas is quite fun but the general combat suffers from them big time. TEW2 is possibly even buggier than the first game and the enemy AI is truly awful at path finding. You can get spotted, run away for a couple seconds, and the enemies will have completely lost interest in you. When they lose sight, enemies shamble back to their patrol route in the most robotic fashion possible, letting you very easily exploit the forgettable foes and dispatch them with stealth attacks. Speaking of stealth, that's something TEW2 leans a bit more into than the first game but it's still so surface level and is just like every other AAA game.
The biggest problem I have with the open world is how it affects the pacing. When exploring the open world bits, you'll be spending loads of time just navigating these large lands and fighting basic enemies that aren't placed in any special manner. There's usually not much to excite you outside of a few powerful enemies that roam these parts(but they can still be exploited with the poor AI, sadly). There are hideouts now where you can go to upgrade your tools and heal yourself up with a cup of coffee but you aren't often forced into these areas and your path forward doesn't often lead you to them so you can spend a substantial amount of time not visiting these spots, which makes the whole game feel like it both doesn't have enough action, but also not enough downtime. It all melds together into something middling.
Speaking of middling, the story really highlights the difference between TEW1 being directed by Shinji Mikami and TEW2 being directed by someone(John Johanas) who wanted to play things safe and do what the industry has already proven to work. I'm not saying TEW1 had a great narrative. It was messy and deliberately held information from the player for long stretches of the game. But hey, it was another thing TEW1 could call its own. TEW2 ignores a lot of the first game and focuses on Sabastian trying to find his daughter. Oh boy, another AAA game staring a sad, gruff dad. The story is more immediately digestible but not anymore intriguing or even really that emotional. The game starts with a scripted bit where you search your currently-on-fire house, trying to save your daughter and all I could do was roll my eyes. It's all just so played out. I'm sorry, TheGamingBrit, this isn't Silent Hill tier stuff.
Funnily enough, my favorite part of the game is the boss fight against Stefano. A lot of people seem to hate this boss and call it cheap but I thought it was a welcome challenge. The fight plays out like any good classic boss battle should. Stefano has attacks that are all given unique windup animations or even unique pieces of dialogue. When was the last time you in a western published AAA game where you had a genuine boss battle that said attack lines over and over to let you know what he was going to do next? I miss those days.
I can't really point fingers at anyone and tell them they're wrong for liking TEW2 more than the original. The sequel is a perfectly fine game and maybe some players just wanted something a bit more formulaic and less tense than the original. For me though, I just wish the game had a strong identity. It didn't even have to be just like the first game. It just needed to feel like a one-of-a-kind and memorable experience. I just don't think I got that and at this point I hope we don't get a 3rd game.
Bonus thing I couldn't fit into the review: The game's hardest difficulty at launch was one of those garbage modes where it plays just like the second-highest difficulty, expect you have extremely limited saves. This means if you die, you might get sent back multiple hours. I really loved the one-hit-kill Akumu difficulty in the first game because it meant you really had to master each section but the checkpoints were frequent enough that you weren't wasting loads of time with each death. This mode in TEW2 just feels like a tacky way to make something SEEM harder than it really is. Also, Sebastian got a slight redesign in this game and I think he looks way less cool and more generic. If you agree with that last point, tell me! Am I alone in this!?

Definitely my goty 2014 and my gotg.
Shinji Mikami delivered for me with his, as of the time of writing, final directed release. The majority of the game is a masterfully designed sin wave of obstacle-courses and arena-fights. It's carefully balanced with a trap-economy. There are traps that are explicitly in your favor, such as bales of hay to set on fire, neutral traps, such as a bear trap you and enemies can get stuck in, and traps that are out to get you, such as a proximity-triggered acid-shower. It's your choice to use them as is, or dismantle them for trap-parts which allow you to design your own traps for enemies. The combination of unusually-demanding strategy and quick-action make the game's combat addictive. Guns are not going to cut it. While the shotgun-match combo is effective and the sniper has a 100% crit-rate, ammo is scarce. Even your handgun can only hold 16 total rounds including what's loaded in it. This is not a run and gun, and the experience is so much richer for its focus on alternate means of dispatching enemies. I can still return to this game after hundreds of hours and dozens of runs at any time. It's absolutely up there with Mikami's best in the genre.
I have my gripes with it, and they're petty, but I want to be fair. The first chapter's protracted stealth-tutorial is a bit much, especially on replays. It's 10 minutes if you beeline it out of there, but still. Chapter 2 even is a bit light with its only real challenge being to get the gate lifted in the small area you're let loose in.
These complaints do nothing to take from the fun I've had with it though. If this is Mikami's final game, it's a hell of a game to go out on.



The simple act of holding hands is key to a bond between boy and girl that transcends their language barrier. With no HUD, no life bar, no button prompts, and no tutorials, Ico is the purest experience in all of gaming. You discover everything for yourself, with nothing to break your immersion. The castle the game takes place in is a character unto itself, your prison and biggest obstacle, with such a well thought out interconnected design.
A game absolutely everyone should play to open their eyes to the power of the medium for storytelling, a landmark in gameplay-story integration.

It was two hours into the game that I fired my first bullet, directed at the first boss. Considering how most horror leans towards loud action instead of quiet dread, I was initially impressed, but it slowly dawned on me how terrible the implications truly were. The gameplay of survival horror is about managing resources: you weigh the convenience of a neutralized threat against the danger of an empty magazine, and consider alternatives like taking damage to run past, or circumnavigating the threat in other ways. In my entire playthrough, I only killed a single common enemy, as it blocked a narrow hallway with no alternative routes. So, that avenue of decision making, and thusly, gameplay, didn’t exist for me. I could walk into any room, and if enemies were laid out in a troublesome way, I could walk out and back in until they loaded into spots which presented no challenge. It seems like a cheesy strategy, but the game provided a survival-horror framework which is meant to focus on intelligent usage of resources. So, bypassing every room without challenge isn’t a decision that I made to go against the design, it’s the opposite: it’s the default optimal choice within the framework. With no pressure to make new decisions, there was no engagement. Verbalizing that perspective helped explain my boredom with Signalis’ gameplay, but it also explained my complete lack of interest in the presentation. Did they make save points throw up a screaming red screen because it was atmospheric, or because it’s what Silent Hill did? Did they make the soundtrack a cacophonous industrial grind because it fit the setting, or because it’s what Akira Yamaoka did? Was the idea to make bold new decisions, or go with the framework? Genre-defining fundamentals like fixed camera angles are one thing, but title-defining personality is another, and much of what’s meant to make this game unique is taken from genre templates. To be fair, it does have some original ideas and nuances to its presentation, but if the way you find that uniqueness is by locating keys to open doors to find boxes which contain keys to open doors with boxes with keys, it just isn’t worth it. You’re mindlessly stepping through the patterns of a game which defined too much of its personality by following patterns.

If slowly walking through lava caverns, scanning things, matching the color of a peashooter to the color of an enemy, slowly walking through lava caverns, fighting the most tedious bosses in all of Metroid, slowly walking through lava caverns, not having a satisfying metroidvania progression or sequence breaks, ignoring enemies and slowly walking through lava caverns sounds like an awesome time then you HAVE TO play this incredible 138 Metacritic score masterpiece.
In all seriousness I really wanted to like Prime but man, this got very tiring the moment the novelty of "Metroid but first-person wore off". Everything related to morph balling was awesome though! Maybe this could've been an even cooler Metroid Marble Blast spin-off.

i wish i liked signalis more. but i feel like a lot of the enjoyment i got from it was just from it being in a genre i love, which is only recently getting a resurgence, and not from the choices the game actually makes.
the game is inspired by a lot of fantastic media. resident evil (the remake of 1 in particular), silent hill (mostly 1 and 2), evangelion, the shining, lovecraft, and more. i can tell because it won't shut up about it. i'm not opposed to wearing your inspirations on your sleeve, but this game does it so blatantly and so frequently that it distracts me from the game i'm supposed to be playing and enjoying, and makes me thinks of other things i like better instead. yes, signalis, i remember the part in resident evil where jill plays moonlight sonata on a piano to open a secret passage. that was a cool moment. you aren't recapturing that by putting a piano in one of the save rooms and playing moonlight sonata in the background, because it's not tied to anything, it has no relevance, you're not doing a new twist on it. you're just making a reference to a game you like. yes, signalis, i recognize the carpet from the shining. yes, signalis, i remember angela from silent hill 2. yes, signalis, i've seen end of evangelion. can we make our own thing now? the worst of it is the blatant, absolutely shameless lifting of an entire major area from silent hill, taking its mechanical gimmick, its aesthetic, and even its name. the game even has the nerve to recycle an entire major plot moment from SH2 in that area. there is a line between "cute reference" and "borderline plagiarism" and signalis crosses it.
signalis strikes me as a game made by people who like a lot of things, but don't understand why they like the things they like. they like the resident evil remake, a game where some downed enemies will eventually get back up unless their bodies are burned, and need to be killed again in a stronger form. but they wanted to one-up that mechanic, so now EVERY enemy gets up unless burned, infinite times, which discourages combat too much. stealth quickly becomes the dominant strategy, slowing the pace of the game down and leading to the player stockpiling way too much ammo and healing. by the time i reached the final boss, my item box was stuffed with dozens of healing items and bullets for every gun, and i'd never touched any of those guns aside from the pistol, and maybe the shotgun once or twice. it's not that the game is too easy once you've figured it out, it's that it's too easy to figure out. enemy encounters should be as much of a puzzle as any door code or wall safe combination.
maybe the biggest offender is the save system. resident evil requires you to spend an ink ribbon to save for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is pacing. in a game where every bullet/healing item is precious, the player is gonna wanna save often to lock in their progress. by tying your ability to save to a resource, the game keeps you from ducking into a save room every 30 seconds and slowing the game to a crawl. it also means that if you wanna savescum to try a room over and over until you can do it without spending bullets or healing, then it'll at least cost you a save ribbon, probably two since you're gonna wanna save again after your perfect run. it's another thing the designer has to balance, but the effort is worth it.
signalis takes the easy way out and allows infinite free saves. so if you wanna play safe, which you SHOULD because that's the name of the game, then you'll shatter the game's pacing by saving after every single room clear. you'll savescum rooms over and over until you get by without taking a hit, then you'll save again, and it won't cost you anything. call that exploitative if you want, but we already had a mechanic that stopped players from playing this way nearly 30 years ago in the original resident evil for ps1, and signalis fails to learn from that despite constantly referencing that game. even the resident evil 2 remake, which had free saving, still had a hardcore mode which brought back the ink ribbons. i wish signalis' hard mode did the same, instead of just lazily increasing enemy health and damage.
also, for god's sake, why do the defensive items take up an item slot? and why can't i have a stun rod and the flashlight equipped at the same time? REmake doesn't make you give up an item slot to carry a taser, and silent hill doesn't bar you from using melee weapons if you have your flashlight out. this is just a stupid, misguided attempt to make inventory management more intense, when what it actually does is make stun rods worthless to carry around, force you to run back to the item box every time you wanna go through a dark room, and make the theoretically cool in-game screenshot item a waste of time and inventory space.
the story is fine, but it takes a lot of skill to pull off this sort of lain-esque, stream of consciousness, highly interpretive storytelling, and i don't think signalis sticks the landing. there's only one Serial Experiments Lain, and that's for good reason. i'm not sure even david lynch could put "Image Intentionally Left Blank" where a cutscene would normally go and make it work. i understand the story fine, but it's trying way too hard with its presentation. simple in-engine sequences would be much more effective than the 15 different styles of cutscene this game cycles through, especially the amateurish-looking anime ones that are way too clean and pretty for such a grungy, rusty, bloody game. though i suppose i haven't seen many games before which have such explicit lesbian overtones. depending on who you are, that element might hit hard.
if i weren't such a junkie for Scary Hallway Logistics Simulators, i'd probably be more down on this game. when i actually think about it, so much bad comes to mind. but even if it's fucked up, inferior resident evil, it's still resident evil, which i'll never stop finding fun. and given this game was made almost entirely by just two people, it's a monumental achievement. i just wish it were a better game.

Theres a universe where God Hand is the most popular game ever created and this game slipped out of that universe and into ours